In celebration of Libraries Week 2017 SRB chats with Colin Waters and the staff of The Scottish Poetry Library about what makes their library tick.
Tell us a little bit about your library.
The SPL is an independent arts organisation with charitable status and is the world’s leading resource on Scottish poetry. Founded in 1984, it’s a special space, the only poetry house in the world to have an extensive lending library at its heart; our collection can be borrowed by anyone, which speaks to the democratic spirit that informs the Library’s mission.
It’s a place where mature voices meet emerging talent, and both are given a platform, whether it is on the page or on the stage. Thanks to our popular website, which provides global audiences with a window onto one of the most vibrant and successful areas of Scotland’s culture, we are increasingly seen as the definitive source of information on Scottish poetry in the world.
What makes your library stand out?
The SPL is one of three poetry libraries in the UK, but the only one to be independently constituted and housed; indeed, it’s the only poetry library in Europe with its own custom-built premises. Through our publications and award-winning programme of live readings, the SPL has moved beyond collecting the nation’s poetry into shaping cultural conversations. Over three decades, the SPL has established itself as the first stop for anyone with a question about poetry, not only posed by the public, but by the media, academics, and poets themselves.
Who works there?
What one food/drink could your librarians not survive without?
Biscuits and flavoured teas of various stripes.
What other library do you secretly admire?
The Library of Dream in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, where books great authors dreamt of but never finished are shelved.
What is the most enjoyable event you’ve had in the library?
One of our favourite events, not least because we won a Creative Edinburgh award for it, was our The Library Is Open event, which took place in January 2016. Poet Iain Morrison’s suite of poems about drag queens led to a very memorable evening, with films, skype link-ups, poems about RuPaul and, of course, a drag queen, Wanda da Fourrure (aka poet Jean Francois Krebs).
Someone once asked for poems about Irn-Bru.
Most rewarding moment?
The moments when you know you have brought comfort to someone. Often we have enquiries from people searching for funeral poems. One man phoned to thank us for help finding poems from his childhood – he had been recently widowed and wanted to focus on memorising poetry to help keep his mind active.
We couldn’t possibly pick favourites! (Our real favourites know who they are)
Biggest librarian bug bear?
People with an enquiry that is a bit too vague…for instance, the colour of the cover, or a broad description of a poem with no specifics to help us narrow the search!
In one sentence persuade someone who has never been in your library why they should go.
If you don’t like poetry, it’s because you haven’t found the right poem yet – we can fix that.